Forbes.com named Baton Rouge one of the most toxic cities in America last week, clocking in at No. 5. (At No. 1: Philadelphia.) The website used information gathered by the Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sperling's Best Places Health Index, which compiles health and quality-of-living indices for U.S. cities.
Forbes ranked the cities by air and water quality and Superfund sites (areas impacted by hazardous waste). The report also gathered the number of days a city's Air Quality Index exceeded 100 (the EPA deems indices 0 to 25 "good" air days), and the Toxics Release Inventory, which gathers power plant and manufacturing reports of chemical releases. The report found Baton Rouge contributed 33.6 million pounds of on-site toxic releases in 2009 (the latest year available for the data).
Anne Rolfes, director of environmental watchdog Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB), says the data illustrates "the tremendous burden of environmental pollution" Baton Rouge residents live with. The country's second-largest refinery — the 100-year-old ExxonMobil refinery — sits in the Baton Rouge area. Since 2005, that refinery has contributed more than 4 million pounds of pollution to the air and has spilled more than 36,000 gallons of pollutants, according to LABB and EPA data. In 2010, however, the numbers fell sharply — the refinery released only 1,755 pounds of pollution, compared to a 2009 release of more then 700,000 pounds.
Rolfes hopes the report triggers a more "robust response from the state" to decrease industrial pollution. — Alex Woodward